Skip to main content

Can Social Media Save Detroit?

Roxanne Darling at Bare Feet Studios recently wrote an outstanding piece on the use of social media at Ford. In How Ford Can Ramp Up It’s Social Media Turnaround Story of 2009 (nicely summarized by John Cass on Social Media Today), she outlines a social media strategy to help Ford become more transparent and connect more effectively with customers. She recommends new initiatives (such as getting executives using Viddler to answer questions directly from consumers) as well as building on the social media efforts already being led by Scott Monty.

Ford-CarChristopher Barger at GM has also been innovative, not just at getting the company involved with bloggers, but in the underlying concept of social media in general: listening to consumers and responding with sincerity and transparency. For example, at one gathering he insisted on seating Hummer executives at the same table with green bloggers. While the two groups certainly didn't come away agreeing with each other, they did at least increase their understanding of the other group's point of view.

(Chrysler, meanwhile, still apparently doesn't get social media, at least according to Noah Mallin.)

Regardless of the final form and extent of the auto industry bailout, what's abundantly clear is that the Big 3 can't put a bandaid on their current troubles and then continue to do business the way they have for the last 30 years. Congressional meddling is unlikely to help, but social media is part of what can.

Beyond creating a dialog with consumers, the automakers need to understand how to use social media for competitive research, and most importantly, for labor relations.

While the causes of the current problems in Detroit and many and complex, a big part of the problem is labor issues. This isn't to bash the rank and file, but more of a pox on both their houses: for years, the unions have been making unrealistic demands, and management has been agreeing to them. Time magzine reports that "GM's combined pension and retiree-health-care costs run $7 billion annually and have cost GM more than $103 billion over the past 15 years," as employees can potentially collect more than $100,000 in healthcare benefits after leaving the company.

The adversarial model of labor relations is broken. And while no one expects Rick Wagoner, Alan Mulally and Bob Nardelli to launch into a dance routine with Ron Gettelfinger and sing We're All in This Together, social media could bring a transparency, immediacy and honesty to worker-management relations that's never been possible before. Imagine a production line employee asking a question online and getting a direct response from an auto company executive on Twitter or YouTube—instantly and publicly, with no filtering through layers of management or labor spokespersons. Even more powerfully, imagine one of these companies, instead of hiring a social media evangelist, turning all of its tens of thousands of employees into evangelists by communicating, and then living, a vision beyond creating the next hideous crossover vehicle.

Obviously, it's going to take far more than a Blogger account and a ShareThis button to fix 100 years of counter-productive adversarial labor relations. But if management and labor ever decide to step off that broken treadmill, social media tools can provide a platform for a transparent, direct dialog.


Contact Mike Bannan :


Scott Monty said…
Thanks for the perspective, Tom. We're using social media for far more than listening and blogger relations. There's a serious commitment to it here at Ford for both internal and external use. Expect to see more in the future.

Oh, and the Flex? While some may call it hideous, many more are praising Ford for a unique and different design. Good design will always create strong emotions on each side - that's a good thing. But with a 55% conquest rate (owners who previously did not drive Fords), we're pretty pleased with the results.

Scott Monty
Global Digital Communications
Ford Motor Company
Tom Pick said…
Hey Scott --

Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. Your efforts to use social media creatively at Ford are clearly getting a lot of notice, and praise.

As for the flex - that's just my personal opinion. It's not as ugly as the Honda Element (though -- what is?) and in fairness - I noted that Chrysler isn't doing much with social media, and I included a photo of a Chevette (not exactly a shining example og GM's design prowess), so I had to ding Ford for something!

Plus, I actually own a Ford.
Unknown said…

Your last paragraph sums it up. I appreciate the efforts of folks like Scott Monty and I applaud the efforts. But the problem goes so much deeper than any amount of marketing (social or otherwise) could fix. And you hit the largest nail (read: guilty party) on the head referring to labor relations.

My company currently owns over 30 Ford vehicles in our fleet and have purchased many more over the years. My personal feeling is this: UAW should get what they've got coming. If I were congress, I would completely predicate the availability of funds on the UAW's participation in the HUGE haircut necessary. The US auto industry needs to get costs under control and the UAW is nearly single-handedly responsible for many of the ailments the auto industry is suffering.

Many, many people share my opinion that US automakers make an inferior product, and for UAW workers to get paid what they do is criminal. I'm not implying that the overall product quality is solely in the hands of the assemblers, but for an industry turning out an inferior product, your workers should probably get paid a rate reflective of that quality. They're getting paid as if they're hand-building Aston Martin's - and trust me - they're not. If the people assembling Taurus' got paid any more than $20/hr THAT would be a crime. It's a fine vehicle that serves a market, but let's face it - it's junk. If you want to build a company car that sells for what the Taurus sold for then shouldn't the labor to build it be in proportion to it's sell price? Maybe they'd make a few bucks in profit. But hey, who cares about profit so long as our precious UAW workers are getting their fair pay.

In our neck of the Midwest, most believe that US automakers - and especially and specifically the UAW - should get what it has coming. They've milked it for 100 years and the cow is dry. Suck it up and join the real work where people get paid reasonable rates to do a job.

Get real UAW - you are the ones ruining the US auto industry.
Tom Pick said…
In the old days -- that is, anytime prior to September of this year -- firms with out-of-whack cost models would go in Chapter 11, restructure, and emerge stronger.

Now, we taxpayers subsidize the continuation of management dysfunction.
Anonymous said…
HI Tom,

Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I agree social media campaigns are not a panacea, but they do offer so much more bang for the buck than traditional media, and, can produce "free" market research as well as new solutions the insiders may not have thought of.

That's not for lack of brilliance in Detroit, it's merely that part of "if you always do what you've always done..." Outsiders can help build a support base for the change-makers within the companies.
Tom Pick said…
Thank you Roxanne, brilliantly stated as always.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ed Kohler said…
The biggest key to social media is being likable. Great products and services get talked about.

All Time Greats

Email Campaign, Newsletter and Banner Ad Click-Through Rates (CTR)

When planning online advertising and email promotion budgets, it's critical to calculate the likely ROI upfront whenever possible, as well as to establish campaign benchmarks. The first step is understanding the average and likely range of CTRs for various programs. The growth in online advertising, the proliferation of enewsletters, the emergence of new forms of information delivery such as RSS and the emergence of social media sites have all affected CTR, so planning based on current data is crucial.

It can be challenging to find current statistics, but based on several studies, these are typical CTR ranges for email newsletter ads, email campaigns (blasts or internally-produced enewsletters), and banner ads.

Email newsletter advertisements
Open rates range from 28-40%, with an average of about 33%—meaning that roughly one-third of the subscriber base is likely to see your ad. The Advertising Is Good For You blog tracks these statistics from DoubleClick.
The average CTR for indust…

Twitter Twaddle, Part 1: What Twitter Is and Why It's Cool

Most Web 2.0 sites fall into one of a few increasingly well-defined categories, such as social bookmarking (Digg,, Searchles), social networking (LinkedIn, Facebook) or file sharing (YouTube, Flickr, podOmatic). Twitter, however, stands alone. (Okay, there's also Pownce, but Twitter is better.)

Self-described as simply a real-time short messaging service and often referred to a microblogging platform, to those new to it, Twitter resembles nothing so much as a giant cocktail party where everyone talks at once and hopes others listen. You can tell who's important by how many "followers" that person has, though that's no guarantee anyone is really paying attention. People (or rather, Tweeple in the Twitter lexicon) can come and go without really being noticed, just like at a real (very, very large) gathering.

Twitter can be difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with it. Jennifer Laycock writes that Twitter is like Post-It notes; lots of them and in mu…

Twitter Twaddle, Part 2: Best Practices, Tools and The Future of Twitter

This is the second of a two-part series. Part one covered what Twitter is and why it's cool; this post discusses Twitter etiquette, tools, and speculation about its future.

How to Twitter Properly

Like any other social setting, Twitter has its own etiquette. This can be confusing to new users. (And, as you can see by spending more than a few minutes on Twitter, it's apparently elusive to many long-time users as well.) Margaret Mason has written an outstanding primer on Twitter etiquette, offering advice such as watch your ratio ("If only a few people follow you, but you follow a thousand or more, many people will assume you’re a spammer. That’s because you probably are. Go away, spammer."); never Twitter if you're drunk or high; and most importantly, "remember that everyone can hear you."

The brilliant Mike Volpe of HubSpot takes a different approach to offering his advice in 5 Things On Twitter That Annoy the Crap Out of Me. His practices-to-avoid incl…

SEO Link Spam - What Is It and Who's to Blame?

Over the years, unscrupulous black hat SEO scammers have used a variety of tricks—keyword stuffing, link farms, white text and others—to try to manipulate search results, and the algorithms used by Google, Yahoo and the other search engines have evolved to identify and squelch the effectiveness of such nefarious tactics.

A more vexing issue for the search engines is dealing with link spam, not only because it is difficult to detect and address algorithmically, but because there isn't even a clear definition. As a website owner, the term represents emails like this:

Dear webmaster,

As a part of ongoing campaign to increase the Link Popularity of My website I am looking for some good potential sites like yours. I review your site and find that, in SEO perspective your site is Perfect. Also, this would be a great resource for my visitors too.

I would request you to consider listing my site.

Title:- My Spammy Website
Description:- miracle weight…

Google and the Parable of the Turkey

In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about the life of the turkey: for 100 days, the turkey is sheltered, fed and cared for by the farmer. The turkey grows to trust the farmer completely, even perhaps developing a fondness for the farmer (and of course the feed). Then, on the 101st day (with Thanksgiving quickly approaching), the relationship between the turkey and the farmer changes abruptly and permanently. The rationale behind the farmer's apparent benevolence become clear in a final flash before the turkey takes the necessary step preceding de-feathering, vacuum-packing, freezing and shipping off to the market.

Taleb's lesson for us from this: don't be a turkey. More succinctly, don't assume that the future will resemble the past, or, in the words of mutual fund prospectuses, "past performance is no guarantee of future results." Also, remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Of course, that doesn't take into account the perspec…

ON24 Launches Virtual Tradeshow Platform with Real Potential

The concept of virtual tradeshows has been around since at least 2001. The appeal, to both exhibitors and attendees, is obvious. No travel costs. No lost productive time due to travel. No limit on the number of employees you can use to staff your booth or "send to the show." No need to limit the duration of the show to just a few days. No geographical boundaries (assuming you have a way to staff the odd hours). No environmental concerns. No panic because your booth staff flew to Chicago—but your booth ended up in Atlanta.

Yet in practice, uptake has been very slow. This is partly for cultural reasons (can I buy you a virtual drink?) but also because the technology has never quite delivered a user experience that's a viable substitute for physical presence. Now, the folks at ON24 believe they may have changed that. Their new Virtual Show platform combines the company's expertise in webcasting with rich graphics to create a compelling visual environment with useful tool…

WMC Interviews: Albert Maruggi

This week, I had the chance to sit down with Albert Maruggi, principal of St. Paul-based marketing agency Provident Partners (and huge baseball fan). His agency assists companies in a variety of industries in all areas of marketing, with particular expertise in PR, events management, integrated marketing and podcasting.

WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before founding Provident Partners?

Albert Maruggi (AM): Worked in radio for a number of years. I was a television reporter and anchor. I also shot and edited video for news stations. I was a political reporter who made the jump to being a press secretary for a Member of Congress. From there I became Press Secretary for the Republican National Committee and then held public affairs management positions in the Bush '41 Administration.

WMC: How, when and why did Provident Partners get started?

AM: When I could not get my flight from LA to MN on September 11, 2001 I drove back home. I did a lot of thinking on that trip and I made tw…

Top-Notch Digital Marketing Tip: Advertisements That Make Sense

Looking for some online marketing tips to grow your business? Well, you’ve come to the right digital marketing resource! Web Market Central has been doling out the proper DM advice for years. And as you already know, marketing to customers online is 100 times easier than using dated, expensive and traditional marketing tactics. Like seriously, who uses billboards in 2019?
But you already know how effective Digital Marketing can be in the modern age. So now that you're totally convinced of what you already knew, let’s give you today's top notch-digital marketing tip!
Advertisement Congruence If your business is running ads this is one of our most important online marketing tips! Ad congruence is when your ads and landing pages look alike or have the same message.
Have you ever clicked on an ad and been taken to a page that looked nothing like the ad?
When your ads look like the web pages they lead to, customers will feel like they are in the right place and will boost conversion rat…